Guest Author - Caroline Baker
Anyone who has ever been to the Forbidden City in China will certainly agree that it is as breath-taking as it is expansive. The Forbidden City lies in the heart of Bejing, serving as the Imperial Palace for both the Ming and Qing Dynasties (the last two dynasties in Chinese history). Construction started on the palace in 1407, making the palace nearly 600 years old.
The boundaries of the city form a rectangle that only the most privileged of society once was able to enter. Behind these walls, a whole world existed for one purpose – to serve the Emperor and his needs. Outside is another rectangle which at one time housed senior officials and their families. Today, it is one of China’s greatest and most visited museums, preserving a life which seems so different from the world we live in today. Immediately outside of the city walls is the now infamous Tiananmen Square, one of if not the largest public squares in the world.
The walls themselves are a bright red color and narrow as it reaches upwards to thwart off any would be climbers who wish to peek into the city. A 164 foot wide moat surrounds the city to further deter any would be attackers. Each corner has a watchtower to oversee what happens both inside and out. There are four gates that enter into the city on each of the compass directions, with the southern gate being the primary entrance for the Emperor.
Within the walls, yellow is the predominate color from the roofs to decorations and yellow bricks in the ground. The stylized roofs that have come to be associated with the Chinese culture can be seen everywhere. Immediately upon entering are five bridges, each representing one of the five Confucian virtues, which takes you across the Golden Water and into the main portion of the city.
The city is divided into section. The Outer Court, where the Emperor conducted his main business, contains three halls that lie along the central axis – Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, and Hall of Preserved Harmony. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is where the Emperor would hold court and was the tallest building in the Ming and Qing periods. Behind this is the Inner Court, where the Emperor resided with his empresses and concubines. The Inner Court is filled with beautiful palaces and gardens.
One of the most impressive feats is the large single piece of marble carving that sits between the stairways behind the Hall of Preserved Harmony. The marble is said to weigh 250 tons and is 17 meters long by 3 meters wide and brought from a district that’s over 70 km (~40 miles) away. Carved into the face of the marble are nine dragons playing with balls and surrounded by flowery clouds. Dragons were the symbol of the Emperor, being the son of the Heavens (or dragons) and nine was the number representing the Emperor. No one was allowed to touch the marble and would face death upon doing so as this was the “Ladder to Heaven”. The Emperor himself would be carried in a sedan over this stripe of marble, held up by men on the stairs on either side.
Just as western royalty, the Forbidden City is not the only palace that the Emperors had. What we see today has also been rebuilt several times. Being the center of power, it has also been the site of much conflict. Even today, with China no longer being under imperial command, it still is a symbol of power among the Chinese people.